While in hospital feeling like death warmed up as consultants around my bed decided which body parts I could do without, Alex Salmond phoned to wish me well, putting the nurses in a tizzy, and to my surprise asking if I would pen an arts policy for Scotland. I assumed he was giving me something to live for that need never materialise, although I would have preferred an honorary degree for services to Scotland’s arts, to be candid. (I write and edit my wife’s books but she gets the honorary degrees in literature from universities! No one said marriage is a conjoining of equals.) Still, it was a surprise request confirming my maxim, everything in life comes too late. In school I was once last in a sports day race, mocked by the guy in front for being last. So I dropped out and gave him the finger. No chance to drop out from this task.
I surmised Salmond – a great tactician – was planning something momentous but he called back later to play-down the request – possibly to divert me from calculating two and two reach four, saying the ‘policy’ was to publish on his website ‘Scotland Speaks’ to test public reaction. I was to write no more than 900 words. I wrote 1,400.
The invitation reminded me I had done my best to offer my punchy wordsmith services to the SNP in 2013 and received blank stares, which is the reason my essay site exists. I found a way of helping the cause of liberty. Perhaps I looked too eager, or forgot to wear under-arm deoderant. Instead, in 2019, the SNP employed the discredited ex-editor of the Scottish edition of the Daily Record and co-architect of the ‘Vow. He got the cherished role of Master Propagandist. Murray Foote, who conned Scots out of their birthright, saw his nefarious crime sanctified and rewarded by Saint Nicola.
For the record- no, not that Record, I also offered my draft Constitution to the SNP in its deliberations to protect our sovereignty, but that too was ignored. I reckon I am the most ignored thing by the SNP after a referendum on independence. Their wonderful new-ish National Secretary cannot be bothered answering my emails, the lovely slacker. The SNP is not clever at utilising talent and ability it attacts from new adherents to the cause. Over 120,000 of us bored to our back teeth disappeared faster than snow off a drystone wall.
It took some weeks to get my head around art for all, what should be reformed and what should be encouraged. Giving consideration to things inadequate in our cultural diaspora is easy until you have to think about ‘why’, and what good it will do, not the least of which is actually keeping talent in Scotland and not see the best moving elsewhere to make a living. Actors, directors and playwrights always go south, painters are ambivalent but know London critics and galleries exhalt and sell talent best of all. Writers tend to stay here, but successful others like novelist Alistair MacLean toddle off to tax exiles.
Anyhow, I put my thoughts on paper and sent it to Alex Salmond and then forgot about it. Yes, it is nice to be acknowledged, and even if late in life, rewarding. Better than a birthday card at 100 years of age from the Queen.
You could subtitle this paper, ‘Not a proper job’. Freezing to death at 6am on a winter’s morning in Lanarkshire, waiting for the crew to set up for a drama scene shot outside a rural pub, holding a paper cup of coffee for warmth, a lorry driver shouted, “Why don’t you wankers get a proper job?!” The arts are not always appreciated by the philistine whose idea of ‘art’ is Page 3 of a tabloid newspaper. Moaning about arts festivals is a Scottish hobby. Edinburgh folk are apt to grumble at the world coming to their city every International Festival.
In a discussion with Salmond, I suggested we should have a celebration of Scotland’s greats, let the world know who our best are, rather than hoping the ever-non-Scottish director of the Edinburgh International Festival might include a few ‘local’ productions in the August extravaganza if we doff our cap.
The main tenents of my thesis are now part of the ALBA party’s manifesto. Thus, I feel obliged to publish my paper in full, and hope it holds interest for those wedded to Scotland’s culture, even if I am a little embarrassed at the grandeloquent title. Tomorrow, I’ll change the world, right after I have a good breakfast.
AN ARTS POLICY FOR SCOTLAND
“Placing our palm in the earth tells people we exist.” Gareth Wardell
A fable taught when a child was the story of the grasshopper and the ants. The grasshopper plays sweet fiddle music all summer for the enjoyment of a colony of industrious ants storing food and building homes. When winter’s hardships arrive he is refused food and shelter only to be lectured about the virtue of hard work prepares us for tomorrow. That is how our society treats the arts when budgets tighten. Other nations increase support. They acknowledge the arts bring pleasure and happiness, and they heal. Great art is an ambassador for a nation’s culture. It fosters global friendships.
Begin at the beginning
Education is prone to churn out conformity; rather we should cultivate the best instincts in human kind. This is conceded by most thinking people. One begins with the inalienable right of every individual to develop from opportunity offered. To confine learning to existing job opportunities, education as a sausage factory, is the state at the mercy of capital. The arts can create well-adjusted personalities, confident, articulate and imaginative, the very essence of human progress.
Everything begins at the primary level, everything. Inculcating an adventurous spirit in children, exploring by creativity, and co-operating with a friend or group, eradicates the fear of failure. The joys of construction are shared. There should be no such thing as failure, only experimentation. (The Montessori Method excels at this.) Failure teaches the child he or she is of less worth than their peers, that they are of limited ability.
Infant schools include art, dance, music and storytelling. Children should explore their indigenous culture and that of other societies, concepts that connect people the world over. (I include Gaelic culture.) Primary teachers usually key in work to the cycle of the seasons, but it is vital children make connections with the world immediately around them, the one that exists every day.
Take art as an example. Primary teachers are excellent as all-round teachers; few have any expertise in aesthetics. A peripatetic specialist is needed for that task. Bringing in a secondary art student is an answer. Let them teach lessons in the principles of art, why art is all around them, from colour and pattern, through design, to architecture. Teach children how aesthetics are important in everyday life, knowledge imparted without being over-complicated.
At an early age, through play and games, children are expert in imagining themselves as adults, pirates, ballet dancers, bus drivers, tigers, movie characters, and the like; the origins of theatre are there to develop. Exposure to arts and crafts is paramount if an individual is to see power not as superiority over others, but as learning by artistic creation or scientific discovery.
Children of this age are information sponges, they absorb without bias. Teaching without children knowing why they do it, is useless.
The arts are, by their nature, anarchic and free flowing, like youth itself. The pioneering work of dominie A.S. Neil and his Summerhill School and his disciples John and Morag Aitkenhead with Kilquhanity House in Castle Douglas, demand a renaissance, where young adults are freed of adult coercion over subjects suppressed by rigid curricula. Free will spurs self-motivation.
In secondary education we should follow the same line of curiosity as primary education ditching the rigid lines of learning. Truth is important but imagination comes first. Leonardo da Vinci would have a lot of trouble adjusting to strict educational categories of subject matter. To him science and art were one and the same. In the fourth or fifth year a pupil ought to be free to specialise.
To know who plotted the death of Rizzio, Mary Queen of Scots favoured musician, is of no great application. However, to understand the male psyche can give insight into human nature. The aggressive youth may find pleasure in the armed services as an adult – utilising the arts as a means of exploration can illicit others skills that will bring satisfaction as an adult.
Music must remain a staple of an education system. Venezuela provides the triumphant example of achievement from poor income backgrounds that result in callow youth’s enthusiasm to participate in orchestral music – see the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, often under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel. We had a similar experiment gaining praise in Lanarkshire. A nationwide echo of their principles is the way forward to create Music Scotland. Let no one be put off by fear of scale.
Drama classes boost language and communication skills; music classes boost an understanding of mathematics and foster team work; dance exhilarates, modern dance innovates, painting, print making and sculpture teach the science of colour, design, creative use of earth’s materials, enhancing imagination that express new ways of seeing. Rothko’s colour-field canvasses taught us colours trigger emotions.
An educational system is usually aimed at usefulness. The arts free us to discover other possibilities.
Filmed drama and documentary
The moving image is the form of storytelling of the modern age. The novelist and writer, the auteur, cinematographer, designer, composer, musician, digital magician and animator come together through filmed drama and documentary.
Alas, Scotland is locked into the British film industry, to a great extent the English film industry. Understandably, it promotes English culture. The chief among it are known to reject Scottish subject matter as ‘not commercial’, leaving Scots filmmakers at an acute disadvantage, forced out of Scotland to find work. This is unacceptable.
Scotland has a cottage film industry. We remain a country more often used as a backdrop for films of other nations, than one making movies.
The Norwegian model is one to study. The Norwegian government gives an annual tranche of money to existing film production houses, and a large portion of cinema ticket profits go straight to the production company. Income and government funds are conjoined and recycled. This is a standard Scotland would do well to implement.
By this method Norway, a small country like Scotland, is able to produce a dozen films a year without worrying about international sales or subtitles. Producer’s films find an audience on Norwegian television, paid for the right to transmit their films. Scotland does not have a broadcaster actively involved in encouraging movie making. If writers, directors and producers want to see their work shown in the UK or abroad, we require a resident expert in international sales, with local cinemas guaranteeing exhibition of home grown material, even after Scotland has established its own broadcasting company investing in film.
Scotland can emulate the Norwegian model, our stories expressed in Gaelic, dialect, or in Scots-English.
Creative Scotland, labours under a faux commercial role. It dominates those that cannot survive without subsidy, and new talent looking for start-up funds. The decisions it makes are hit and miss. Some decisions are inexplicable. Sitting in an office dishing out rules and application papers is bureaucratic. The old Scottish Arts Council had a policy where an arts officer turned up at a client’s door or event, unannounced. There is need of an ‘Academy of Arts’ that dispenses funds, and also elevates its practitioners, no London critics needed to decide on standards or values. Creative Scotland is a stop gap that wants a rethink.
Corporate sponsorship is a dragon consuming all before it. Big business reduces creativity to consumerism. A new Scotland can discipline corporate ownership of the arts. Ditch pick-the-popular sponsorship in favour of a national accumulated fund – sponsors duly thanked and publicised. Take a modest portion of mandatory tax from businesses. Together with a wholly Scottish Lottery Fund, (still a reserved fund) a ‘National Fund’ rids us of the mendicant culture where only the strongest survive. Let arts activity free itself from stifling commercial imposition, wary of radicalism.
Art colleges moved to installation work some years ago, ‘concepts’, encouraged by second-rate UK prizes. (An installation caused the first fire in Glasgow’s Mackintosh building!) Art schools exploit this fashion to save on painting and drawing materials. Art students are graduating who cannot draw or paint. They know nothing of the process of artistic creation. The pendulum has swung too far one way. The principles of art are sacrosanct; those skills take years to acquire. Nurture the gifted, not the lazy keen to become an ‘artist’ on the back of shallow concepts. And in that regard, we should see stronger support than now for the guardian of Scottish art, the Royal Scottish Academy.
Education is the province of the political charlatan. Opponents of Scotland’s rights carp and bite at the edges knowing there is never enough money to alter things, their moans and groans are safe. The proposals set out here for the arts in education and the community are not expensive. At the other end, the proposals for filmmaking can be organised in a way that avoids high financial risk.
Above all, a government that embraces the arts embraces human aspiration, a place where we gain a sense of ourselves as a great civilisation. A spirit of adventure and liberty will bear fruit in an atmosphere of consistent and sustained national support of the arts. Scotland, be bold!
Gareth Wardell © Copyright March 2021
NOTE : For readers interested in a constitution for Scotland: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-mv9